He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
You’ve probably heard it said that medical students spend most of their time in school convinced they’ve contracted whatever heinous malady they’re studying in any given week. Hives, gangrene, low-T, ectopic pregnancy, decapitation, you name it, every medical student has had it. I experienced the seminary equivalent of this phenomenon last week.
It all started with a morning spent reading the systematic theology of John Calvin. By lunchtime, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on “The Five Pillars of Calvinism.” Now, for those of you who are rusty on your Reformed theology, allow me to present:
The Beginner’s Calvinist Alphabet
T is for Total Depravity. This is why humans lie, steal, and kill.
Goya. “Y Son Fieres.”
U is for Unconditional Election. Wherever you land, I’m sure it’s God’s will.
Bouguereau. “A Soul Brought to Heaven.”
L is for Limited Atonement. Some folks are “in,” which is semi-good news.
Weigel. “Sheep and Goats.”
I is for Irresistible Grace. When grace is offered, you cannot refuse.
Blake. “The Conversion of Saul.”
P is for Perseverance of Saints. Once you get saved, you can’t get “un-got.”
All this spells TULIP. Which Presbyterians buy into…and Methodists do not.
So then, I read Jacob Armininus’ take on the Five Pillars. He and his fans (including John Wesley) basically pooh-poohed TULIP.* With mounting horror, I began to sense a game changer surging toward my mid-life career move.
Oh, my God, I thought, staring at TULIP and feeling the ground disintegrate under me. I’m a Methodist.
Tearfully, I shared this appalling revelation with my spouse, who mildly pointed out that I’d talked about converting to Lutheranism three weeks earlier.
“And two months ago,” he recalled, “you said you wanted to be a mendicant friar. I can’t wait until you decide to make the Hajj.” (A reference, no doubt, to the Islam class I’m taking this quarter.)
I’ve heard some preachers say that if you can make it through seminary without becoming an atheist, you’re lucky. I suspect these people entered seminary believing that the Bible descended fully formed from heaven in modern English, and the discovery that Moses probably didn’t write the entire Pentateuch (including the part about his own death) completely freaked them out.
It’s been a long time since I believed the Bible was the inerrant and unchanging word of God,** so I figured I would be immune to the dismantling of faith that comes with the seminary experience. Then I discovered comparative theology and realized that Presbyterianism may never be a well-tailored theological fit for me.
Even so, though Methodism’s theological framework seems to fit me better, they’re still battling over whether or not language inclusive of gay men and lesbians has any place in their book of discipline. Forget questions of ordination or marriage – by some accounts, they’re fifty years away from those conversations. Which makes me very relieved to have landed, quite by chance (or Design), in the PCUSA, which has been on the cutting edge of Christ-like inclusiveness for decades.***
Okay, so, PCUSA is Calvinist. And there’s that whole issue of limited atonement and unconditional election. Frankly, for the time being, I’m content to live with some theological mysteries about the afterlife in order to stick with a denomination that is clear on the value of each human being in this life.
* Actually, in fairness, the Arminians pooh-poohed ULIP. They were fine with the Total Depravity thing.
** This is not to say that I don’t believe the Bible is the inspired and living word of God. I do, with all my heart. That said, I’ve also been known to believe that about “South Park.”
*** Of course, the PCUSA is in a state of profound schism over this very issue, to the point that yet another Presbyterian denomination, ECO, has arisen in protest of the PCUSA’s ordination of gay men and women. It’s a great tradition, Protestantism. Ever since Martin Luther pounded his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg door, Protestants have been gleefully telling each other to “take this church and shove it.”
© Marian the Seminarian, 2012